We all know that we’re supposed to stretch. We have good intentions but maybe we’re not sure what to do or how to do it. Is it before I exercise or after? How long should I do it for? And our work out is done and over and we’re off to the next thing on the list. I know, I’m guilty of it to. But we need to remember that flexibility is a key part of our fitness health so we should make a concise effort to do it. The cold winter is especially a good time to focus on this because our muscles are colder and need a little more help warming up, plus it’s good exercise that we can easily do inside and in front of the TV.
So how do I increase my flexibility? I stretch before and after I exercise and I do it differently because they serve two different goals.
Before I exercise I prefer to do a more active stretch. The goal here is to warm your muscles in preparation for your workout. This could be jumping jax which raise your heart rate and stretches your extremities. You can do some pick ups (short sprints), or lunges.
After I exercise I do a more traditional stretch routine. The goal here is to stretch your muscles to gain flexibility because your body is already warmed up and loose. I make sure I cover the major muscle groups, especially my legs, and focus on my quads and hamstrings. In order to get the maximum benefit, I hold each stretch for AT LEAST 40 seconds and repeat the stretches on each side 2-3 times.
What do you do to increase your flexibility?
I’m now in real marathon training mode. Not that I wasn’t before because I registered back in April and I’ve been running and competing all spring and summer and it all counts for something. At least that what I’ve been telling myself but now its fall and it’s time to get serious.
Training for a marathon is very different from training for any other competition. Now, every step toward your goal – whether it’s to run a 5K or a half marathon or any other fitness accomplishment – takes committment, time, patience, and guts. But what I’ve found is that the marathon takes all those but to the next level. I never imagined in my entire life I would be able to say that I ran a marathon. Yes, I ran 26.2 miles and it took me 4 hours and 45 minutes to do it. And in a little less than 9 weeks I’m going to do it again.
Preparation is the take home point for training for a marathon. You need to be prepared to run that far and for that long. But each competition requires some preparation and it depends on your experience and personal choices as to what you will need.
The two most importing things you need for competition and for general fitness:
– You need to be properly hydrated. It really hurts when you haven’t taken in enough fluids and you start to cramp. the key is to drink before you are thirsty and then keep drinking. water is best prior to running…save the low cal sports drink until you’re done.
– Proper footwear that is supportive. you’re sneaks from last spring probably don’t have the support you really need if you’re running. My knees will tell me if I need new shoes!
After you’re satisfied those two items the rest is easy! Comfy clothes and a good playlist (if you’re a music person) will keep you going for whatever distance you set out for.
As my mileage is steadily increasing in preparation for the marathon I need to remember to practice what I preach – that is to stretch.
I’m running more days of the week and I’m out there longer. I’ve also added interval training back into the routine to maximize my muscle capacity. What I realized that I need to pay more attention is my flexibility and more specifically, my hamstrings. I didn’t come up with this on my own – my body told me and it decided to tell me halfway through my Tuesday night run. You’re body has this amazing ability to get your attention and if you ignore it, it will only scream louder until you listen. So, my hamstrings are pretty sore and my calves are a little tight too now that I think about it.
The best way to gain the most from your stretching is actually after your workout when your muscles are already warmed up. Yes, I know – you need to stretch before you workout but that’s more of a warm up and doesn’t do much for your overall flexibility.
You need to focus on your major muscle groups for the most part. Your quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings are all importing but don’t forget about your back – those are core muscles there too! Most of know the basic stretches: lean against a wall with your feet flat give you a pretty good calf stretch, touching your toes is good for hamstrings, and holding your ankle behind you really gets the front of your thigh (Quad). However, to get the maximum benefit, make sure you’re holding the stretch for at least 30-40 seconds and two times each alternating sides. Anything less than that is not going to give you the flexibility needed to keep injury and soreness at bay.
It’s true. When you’re working out regardless of whether you’re using free weights, machines, exercise bands or balls, you need to have proper form. Why? There are two main reasons: Injury Prevention & Bigger Bang for your Fitness Buck.
When I was at the gym earlier this evening and I was resting between sets of the leg press, I was watching my mom on the machine circuit. I had coerced her into joining me because she hasn’t been there in a little while :-). On three separate machines I noticed that she hadn’t adjusted the seats properly to her height/frame and wasn’t in the best position on the machine to be getting the optimal benefit for the time she was spending on it. When she reached the tricep extension she looked like she was going to hurt herself so I intervened.
There is an easy way to fix this and it’s not avoiding the equipment. On the machine circuits they have a help box with pictures on each of them. They tell you the name of the machine, show you a picture of what muscles they target, and give you step by step instructions on how to use it. Most of us don’t even look at it! We watch someone else go first and assume they are doing it right becuase we don’t want to look silly to the other people or pretend we don’t know what we’re doing.
Next time you’re at the gym and using the machines, take 1 minute to review the help box. Do this even if you think you know how to use the machine because you might find you’re not using it to it’s potential – get the most out of your time spent at the gym! Make sure you’ve properly adjusted the leg or arm height, hold the handles the correct way, and don’t use other parts of your body to compensate for trying to lift a weight that is too heavy for you.
Examples of what NOT to do: letting your elbows come away from your body when doing tricep push-downs or bicep curls, lifting your butt off of the chair while attempting chest or shoulder presses, and putting your feet too far down on the leg press platform.
When in doubt – ask the staff at the gym…they can help you.